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Vascular Occlusion for Finger Strength Training


Original Post
Nick Drake · · Newcastle, WA · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 483

I was thinking about plateaus in finger strength, it seems like when you hit one we are stuck in a bit of a catch 22. The two most popular protocols used seem to be:

  • Repeaters. Many do repeater protocols partially with the goal of hypertrophy, however it limits us to far less than our 1RM for resistance. At lower resistance we are mostly recruiting slow twitch fibers, likely not getting fast twitch fibers involved until near/at failure reps. Slow twitch fibers seem to be harder to stimulate for hypertrophy.

  • Max hangs. Low duration, high intensity near or at 1RM with longer rests full ATP-CP fueled work. Again due to connective tissue injury potential we tend to significantly limit TUT with this protocol. In theory it seems to be used for recruitment, a CNS tune up.

What if we could find a way to work more of the fast twitch fibers, which have a greater capacity for hypertrophy, with low loads on the connective tissue? It seems like blood flow occlusion while hanging with light loads could be the ticket. Basically the idea is to restrict blood flow return in the veins (arteries should not be restricted) causing blood to stay in the muscle. It has been shown to increase size/strength with loads down at 20% of 1RM while getting a higher percentage of fast twitch fibers involved.

BFR training induces an anabolic response through various pathways perhaps the most important of which is by preferentially targeting the large fast twitch muscle fibers. Fast twitch fibers are the biggest muscle fibers and have the most potential for growth. These fibers are recruited last during contractions and are mostly anaerobic (don’t use oxygen) whereas the smaller slow twitch fibers are recruited first during contractions and are aerobic (use oxygen). Slow twitch fibers have a much smaller potential for growth compared to fast twitch fibers. BFR training restricts blood flow to muscles, pre-fatiguing the slow twitch fibers and forcing the anaerobic fast twitch fibers to handle the load even at low intensities (2)! Metabolically, your muscle is getting a similar effect to lifting heavy loads but using much lighter weights. Not only does occlusion training preferentially activate fast twitch muscle fibers, it has been shown to cause a fiber type shift from slow to fast, thus increasing the potential for muscular growth and size (3)! Metabolic by-product accumulation is primary mechanism by which occlusion training produces hypertrophy. These metabolic by-products would normally be ‘washed out’ by normal blood flow, but occlusion allows them to accumulate near the muscle. Lactate accumulation in particular seems to have an effect, presumably by increasing growth hormone (GH) concentrations (4-5). In fact, one study found that BFR training caused a GH increase 290 times above baseline (4)! This is a twofold greater increase in GH than what is produced by normal heavy resistance training (6).

https://www.biolayne.com/articles/training/blood-flow-restriction-training-the-next-generation-of-anabolic-exercise/

Has anyone tried this in the past? I see two potential applications for finger strength, breaking through a long term plateau and to keep max recruitment going during season when you are climbing a high volume and don't want to put more strain on your connective tissue. Thoughts?


Nick Drake · · Newcastle, WA · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 483
aikibujin · · Castle Rock, CO · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 294

I heard about this on TrainingBeta awhile back:

https://www.trainingbeta.com/media/tyler-nelson/?portfolioCats=72

Dr. Nelson mentioned that he's planning on trying this with hangboarding and report back, so I'm going to wait to hear about his results.

Meanwhile, there are two reasons that holds me back from experimenting on myself.

1. I didn't go through all the research you sited, but as far as the stuff I've read, no research of occlusion training has been done on isometric exercise like hangboarding. So no evidence that it is (or is not) effective for HBing.

2. Muscular strength and hypertrophy is not the only reason I HB, I also do it to strengthen connective tissues in my hand and fingers (why I train mono and two finger pockets). So using a lighter load to focus on muscle is not inline with my goals.

Nick Drake · · Newcastle, WA · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 483

aikibujin wrote:

I heard about this on TrainingBeta awhile back:

https://www.trainingbeta.com/media/tyler-nelson/?portfolioCats=72

Dr. Nelson mentioned that he's planning on trying this with hangboarding and report back, so I'm going to wait to hear about his results.

Meanwhile, there are two reasons that holds me back from experimenting on myself.

1. I didn't go through all the research you sited, but as far as the stuff I've read, no research of occlusion training has been done on isometric exercise like hangboarding. So no evidence that it is (or is not) effective for HBing.

2. Muscular strength and hypertrophy is not the only reason I HB, I also do it to strengthen connective tissues in my hand and fingers (why I train mono and two finger pockets). So using a lighter load to focus on muscle is not inline with my goals.

Thanks for the link, totally missed that one. I need to add training beta to my podcasts so I get notices on it. 

I have not found any studies on it applied for isometric strength either. 

I am right there with you on connective tissue, I am using Bechtel's 3-6-9 ladder protocol with far lower loads for half and full crimp with the goal being slow progressive load to connective tissue. I haven't even bothered to test max hangs in anything but an open hand grip. In season though, could it be a way to keep full recruitment when you're working routes and don't have the recovery time to boulder?

dave rosen · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 148

I haven't used it in hangboarding, but have done BFRT to help rehab pulley injuries and feel that it helps. Tacked on a 15-20 min BFR session to the end of regular workouts 3x/wk and felt that my rate of recovery was much quicker.

5.samadhi · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2013 · Points: 40

I think half or more the gains from hangboarding come from adaptation of the tendons/pulleys (thickening) which isn't dependent on the blood flow during the stimuli (repeaters, max hangs whatever). The forearm hypertrophy from hangboarding however is dependent on blood flow. There's real mixed evidence for whether occlussion results in increase in hypertrophy (its been extensively studied). I do a type of forearm occlussion training though by grabbing two heavy dumbbells (like 90s) and holding them with arms at side with traps/lats/pecs/delts/forearms engaged isometrically. The results in constriction which cuts the forearm off from blood flow (a serious pump). Combined with insulin (40-50g fast acting carbs pre-workout) and sodium and plenty of water in system your forearms will turn a different color and your veins will literally hurt they are expanding with blood flow so hard (this promotes growth of vascularity).

Not climbing specific but plenty of time to train the CNS of the hypertrophied muscle for climbing specificity. 

5.samadhi · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Jul 2013 · Points: 40

aikibujin wrote:

2. Muscular strength and hypertrophy is not the only reason I HB, I also do it to strengthen connective tissues in my hand and fingers (why I train mono and two finger pockets). So using a lighter load to focus on muscle is not inline with my goals.

Just read your reply, yes, exactly. Main benefit of hangboarding is exactly as you put it, the connective tissue where it is pretty clear occlusion would have no benefit during the training stimulus.

aikibujin · · Castle Rock, CO · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 294

Nick Drake wrote:

In season though, could it be a way to keep full recruitment when you're working routes and don't have the recovery time to boulder?

I'm a pretty big fan of experimenting on myself (as long as it's not something dangerous), so if you're curious, you should give it a try and see how well it works. To be honest, my interest was piqued after I listened to the TrainingBeta podcast, so I bought a pair of cheap occlusion bands on Amazon with the full intention of doing some experiments. My plan was to try occlusion training on my right arm (my weak arm), and normal training for my left, and see if I notice any difference. However, since the perfect sending temp is here, I've switched my training focus to performance, so I won't be able to experiment with it myself until next summer or so.


Nick Drake · · Newcastle, WA · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 483

aikibujin wrote:

I'm a pretty big fan of experimenting on myself (as long as it's not something dangerous), so if you're curious, you should give it a try and see how well it works. To be honest, my interest was piqued after I listened to the TrainingBeta podcast, so I bought a pair of cheap occlusion bands on Amazon with the full intention of doing some experiments. My plan was to try occlusion training on my right arm (my weak arm), and normal training for my left, and see if I notice any difference. However, since the perfect sending temp is here, I've switched my training focus to performance, so I won't be able to experiment with it myself until next summer or so.


I thought about it a bit on the drive for turkey day, also listened to that training beta podcast.  I was actually looking at this because I made a plan from Bechtel's logical progression book, cycling through a bouldering day, bouldering interval endurance day, and a strength sessions (where I hangboard). I've been doing the limit sessions on a moon board, which focuses on all movement patterns that don't come naturally to me (precision dead points that are far enough to encourage cutting feet, big/steep moves square to the wall). I feel like I'm learning the most from those sessions and was thinking that if I could put less stress on my connective tissue on my finger strength days (using BFR) then maybe I could do more frequent limit bouldering. The more I thought about it the worse that idea seemed though, I'm pretty sure that if I use the moon board more than every 7 days I'll just end up injuring myself. 

For right now I'm going to stick with the Becthel 3-6-9 ladders, because I've still been seeing steady improvement in finger strength. When that stops giving me results though I'll probably give it a run, I just wish that there was a method to measure the pressure applied that doesn't cost an arm and a leg. 


Slim Vincent · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Feb 2017 · Points: 0

Has anyone tried this for rehabbing a finger ligament injury?  Mainly getting more blood flow to speed recovery.

The one's I've found on Amazon don't have the ability to dial in the pressure, correct?

amarius · · Nowhere, OK · Joined Feb 2012 · Points: 20

Zac Vincent wrote:

Has anyone tried this for rehabbing a finger ligament injury?  Mainly getting more blood flow to speed recovery.

The one's I've found on Amazon don't have the ability to dial in the pressure, correct?

Google for "finger voodoo flossing"

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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